The main indications of an infected surgical incision include fever, pain and changes in the appearance of the surgical site and surrounding skin. An infection that develops after a surgical procedure can result to increased pain, extended stay in the hospital, re-admission and even life-threatening complications in rare cases.
By being familiar with the indications as well as checking the surgical incision regularly, the risk for development infection is reduced while early detection will ensure that immediate treatment can be started.
Fever and warmth at the site of the surgical incision
An infected surgical incision can be warm upon touch. This is ideally checked by using the back part of the fingers or hand since this side is capable of sensing temperature better.
Infection of the surgical site can also trigger fever that can be accompanied by diminished appetite, tiredness, rapid breathing and heart rate. In case the infection spreads into the bloodstream, severe symptoms such as confusion and organ damage can occur. If not treated, the condition can become life-threatening.
Drainage or bleeding
It is important to note that serum is a minimally sticky, watery liquid that can drain from a surgical incision after the procedure. The fluid is light yellow or transparent, but it can appear light pink if a small amount of red blood cells is present. Remember that it is normal to have minimal oozing, particularly during the initial stages after a major surgical procedure.
If there is discharge or seepage of another form of liquid from the surgical incision, it indicates an infection. The development of infection due to certain germs such as staphylococcus can lead to a grayish white discharge from the incision. The bacterium pseudomonas can cause a distinctive greenish discharge. In most cases, the discharge has a foul odor. In addition, unprovoked bleeding can also indicate an underlying infection.
Increased or unusual pain at the surgical site
Some degree of pain at the surgical incision is relatively normal. Generally, the pain can increase while moving or stretching. After a surgical procedure, the doctor will prescribe pain medications to ease the pain.
In case the pain is annoying despite using pain medications, it might indicate an infection. The infections trigger the release of chemicals that instigate pain, thus new or intensifying pain is an issue for concern.
Changes to the surrounding skin
Once the bacteria are present in the surgical incision, the neighboring blood vessels become large to fight off the infection which makes the skin appear reddened.
Any redness that radiates 2 inches away from the incision is a cause for concern. The ensuing swelling also stretches the skin especially at the edges of the incision. If this becomes severe, staples or stitches used to close the incision but might give away in which the wound opens up. If the individual is not promptly managed, it can spread into the surrounding tissues which is a condition that affects the skin.
When to consult a doctor
A doctor should be consulted if the individual starts to experience intense pain on the area surrounding the surgical incision, particularly if it is getting worse. This simply indicates that more pain medications are needed or it can be an indication of infection or other complications.
Set an appointment with a doctor right away if the individual has fever, unusual discharge or blood from the site or the incision seems to be opening up or getting worse. Bring the individual to the nearest healthcare facility if he/she feels very sick, confused or dizzy since these might indicate a blood infection.